On my quest to feature school libraries that are pushing the envelope of the profession, I came across The Galloway School Library. While still embracing the word “library” rather than changing their name to “learning commons,” they are expanding people’s ideas of what a school library can be. Marcia Kochel, the Middle and Upper Learning Librarian, gave me the scoop on how they went from a small, old-fashioned library to a state-of-the-art learning center, where “yes” is said as much as possible.
Overview of the school:
The Galloway School is a progressive independent school in Atlanta, GA, serving 750 kids from pre-K through 12th grades. We work in a historic building (a former county almshouse) so our space is beautiful and unique. I work with 5th-12th graders and we also have an elementary school librarian that works with the younger students. We are all on one campus, and while we can’t see each other, our library spaces are connected by The Portal, our new interactive classroom. A few years ago we had a very small, old fashioned elementary school library with nothing but book shelves and a story area. There were no tables for students to sit at and very little technology. At that time our combined middle/high school library was already an active, social place that was busting at the seams with kids doing collaborative work. We decided to do a strategic planning process and we involved teachers, parents, students, and administrators. We developed a mission statement and a vision, and many great things have followed from there.
What did you change?
The elementary library moved out into the school’s atrium, tripling its space and adding 2 sets of tables where students can do research and work. It also put the librarian and the books much closer to the students. At the same time, the librarian transitioned to a flexible schedule and is now available to work in classrooms with teachers. There are no doors on this library and students and teachers are in it before, during, and after school.
The middle/upper school library got a big face-lift, including new tables and chairs–all on wheels, as well as new carpet, paint, and comfortable chairs. We also gained 4 Apple TV stations where anyone can connect their computer via AirPlay. We have weeded many books to make more room for new round tables (both table height and high-top). Two bulky circulation desks were moved out of a walkway and off to the side, allowing for a cafe atmosphere.
The Portal is our new collaborative classroom. It has 2 Apple TV stations, a projector and screen, and totally flexible furniture and whiteboards (from Steelcase). It is primarily used for K-12 classes to do research, but also houses book club meetings, professional development, book fairs, and author events. Our middle and high school students have gone 1:1 with laptops in the past 2 years and this is a vital space for them to have room to work and be adjacent to the library’s resources.
The Quiet Space is new this year. We have never had a traditional, quiet library and students and teachers were surveyed and agreed that we needed quiet space. Our computer lab went away over the summer and was transformed into a beautiful quiet study space. We purchased 6 gorgeous new comfortable chairs and moved our reference books in and it is very popular with our high school students.
See more of the library’s before and after pictures here.
What worked well in planning the space? What would you have done differently?
Our space changed over about a year and a half, and I wouldn’t change a thing. It happened in chunks which was kind of nice. We were fortunate to be able to afford new furnishings, which made a huge difference. We didn’t do any remodeling, just repurposing our existing spaces for the collaborative students that we have.
How has a transition to a learning commons changed teaching and learning in your school? Perceptions of the space and your role?
I think we always had a learning commons philosophy, but our strategic plan helped us change visibly–the new carpet, paint, furniture, whiteboards and Apple TV stations all look fabulous and change the way students work. Our elementary students now regularly do research with the librarian (something which never happened before) and our middle and high school students continue to be active users of the library.
What kinds of technology do you have in the space & how is it used?
All of our students have their own Macbooks. We offer 20 iPads for teachers to checkout or for students to use at school. We also circulate cameras, tripods, Kindles, external DVD players, and other devices that students and teachers need. Everything we have can be checked out.
Do you have a Virtual Learning Commons?
I have a website that is updated regularly via my Tweets and blog posts. I use Weebly for the site and LibGuides for research guides. The LibGuides are used often for research projects. Our database page is also heavily used. I promote the LibGuides and databases heavily, but I could definitely promote our other resources more.
How much of your collection is digital vs. print? How do you drive students toward digital?
We have many databases and electronic resources, and we added OverDrive 2 years ago. We also have Follett Digital audiobooks and we circulate Kindles. We still find that the majority of students want print books for fiction so we purchase many fiction books all year long. I need to promote our digital books more–it’s a constant struggle to get the word out about them.
Can you give an example of a successful initiative that you feel highlights the library’s impact on student achievement/learning?
Our best marketing campaign was our strategic plan. We involved the entire school and it led to a lot of great things. I try to have a lot of special events in the library to highlight what a dynamic, active place that we are. This year we’ve had a Harry Potter Day, a poetry reading, and we will have a Hunger Games “reaping” to celebrate the releast of Mockingjay Part 2. For middle schoolers I have multiple book clubs and an All Night Read In that is very popular. One other marketing strategy was to have our communications department design us a logo. I now splash the library logo on everything. We also have a weekly email newsletter that goes out from the school and the library now has a regular feature in the newsletter called Beyond Books where we highlight our research projects, author visits, and activities. That has helped get the word out to our parents.
What’s your best advice for getting teachers on board with using the library’s resources? What are your challenges?
My best advice is to be likable. Teachers have to know you and trust you and want to be around you. Make sure your staff is friendly and that you make life easy for them. Say yes as much as possible.
My challenge now is to really impact student research. It’s difficult to work with 8 different grade levels, even though our school is relatively small. I would like to see our high school students really understand how to tackle a research project from beginning to end.
Author: Cassy Lee
Cassy Lee is a middle school Teacher Librarian focused on education equity, empathy, and empowerment. She is the recipient of the 2020 AASL Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award and the 2018 SLJ Champion of Student Voice. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, son, and a steady stream of foster dogs. You can find her on Twitter at @MrsLibrarianLee and at CSLA in February!